Big Bad Bully Mama
The pecking order is a real thing in chicken flocks. So is being ‘hen pecked.’ I have watched one or the other of the Big Mamas extend her neck out as one of the young ‘uns came by and just peck the heck out of her or him, pulling out a mouthful of feathers for good measure. That is not unusual as new and old chickens come together to be a new flock. And then there can be bullying.
I have a bully in the flock right now. She is relentless. She actually looks around to see who is standing alone and makes a beeline to harass her even when the other chicken is nowhere near her and Big Mama has already gotten plenty of treats from me (she does it to Buckie too—and he’s scared to death of her); All the members of the new part of the flock are simply terrified. I have been reading a lot about chicken behavior and bullying can get to be a real problem, especially if the bully ends up drawing blood on any of the chickens lower on the pecking order. That causes everyone else to pile on and really attack the wounded bird and can even kill her or him.
As far as I can tell, there is only one intervention that works. You isolate that big bad girl. María used to call that going into ‘Pime out.’ With a chicken, you do it for a whole day. This morning, after feeding them all, I rounded her up and got her into the tack room the coop is attached to. We now call it the foyer of the Taj Mahal. She had food and water. Sherod promised to check on her a few times before I got home. While she was out of the picture, there would be some reshuffling of roles and rank among the critters who constitute the flock and she would only be allowed to go back into the coop itself later this evening, when everyone else had chosen their place to roost. My heart was breaking for her as I left her this morning. Chickens are flock birds and they rely on each other to be their true selves. I felt miserable all over again when I went to see her and the rest of the flock mid-afternoon. She stood very still, looking awfully forlorn. The rest of the flock seemed to be having the life of Riley, running in and out of the coop, hopping on the roost bars, rolling around in the dust bath someone created by scratching away all the litter in one spot of the coop floor. “Spa day, girls, come on, don’t worry! She’s not here!!!!”
When it was time to end “Pime Out” and allow the hen back in the coop, she went in and immediately hopped on the roost bar she and the rest of the Big Mamas sleep on. With nary a peep, she settled herself down and it was the very image of the peaceable kingdom in there. The other times I’ve seen her enter the coop after dark, when others are already settling in for the night, she puffs herself up and stomps around, spoiling for a fight. God help the foolish young one who hops off the roost bar!
I am hoping and praying today did the trick. That thing of consequences, setting boundaries, having to name unacceptable behavior. It’s hard.
As uneasy as I have felt about drawing this line in the dirt, I have had some other matters to attend to. On Sunday, we doubled the size of the hen yard by adding another 100 feet of predator-proof electric fencing. Everyone likes that.
Prattville Farm Center tells me they are taking delivery of several different types of goslings on Feb 24th. I am making the first preparations to bring home two and, since PFC also will have little chicks, I’ll also bring home another 4 of them. A smaller new addition of chickens and goslings would be riskier because when it comes adding any members to the flock, numbers matter, along with size. The six will spend time together in the brooder box until they are ready to meet their chicken sisters and brother outside.
Here’s what I’ve learned about having geese in the family: right from the start, they need to have a watering source deep enough that they can submerge their beaks all the way past their nostrils. After they’ve taken a bite of food, they need to suck up some water through their nostrils so the food goes down their throat. Additionally, they need to blow their noses regularly; this too is done in the water. They grow fast, they do not roost, they are extremely weather-hardy so they need far less care. They imprint on their human caretaker and will follow him/her/them around as much as possible. They poop a whole lot 🙄. They start scanning overhead when they are very young and will make a great big ole racket if they see anything that looks like an air predator nearby. Chickens hear the racket and run for their lives into the coop, closed enough and with a small enough entrance down low, that an eagle or owl will more than likely not try to get in.
My morning routine is less sedate and slow now. I still try to have some time for quiet and to ease into the day, but there are several morning tasks I need to do before getting ready for work. Now, while the morning temps start in the 30’s and 40’s, I come back inside with bright red, aching, cold hands. It’s worth it though. When I leave to work, I do so with the reassurance that I made my bed and I took the best care I could of creatures so dependent on me.
Coming out to take care of the cats and chickens in the morning last week, I saw my first daffodils blooming. My roses are really coming out of dormancy now. More birds are stirring. It feels like we are edging towards spring. When the day that follows is as filled with sunshine as today was, there’s space for something more than despair. It’s not that everything’s alright in the world. God knows, that earthquake in Turkey and Syria. The Russian army amassing in Eastern Ukraine. All the mean-spirited, hateful rhetoric that flies so quick and easy all around us. Such excruciating suffering in so many places. It’s not denying any of that. But surely, daily turning over as much poop as I do, because we are using the deep litter method in the coop, makes me more ready for whatever the day holds.
I walk back towards the house, hands in my pocket trying to warm them, holding tight to the knowledge I share space, life, and light with creation. I accept that it is precisely because I’m a speck of nothing in the magnificent vastness of everything my life is connected to, that I can carry some hope into another day. And try hard to just maybe make a tiny bit of a difference.